IE Waterkeeper Prevails in Legal Battle Over Stormwater Pollution in Temescal Creek

Earlier this month, Inland Empire Waterkeeper (Waterkeeper), a program of Orange County Coastkeeper (Coastkeeper), emerged victorious from a Clean Water Act lawsuit over stormwater pollution in Temescal Creek.

On January 2, 2024, the Honorable District Judge David O. Carter released a final judgment on Inland Empire Waterkeeper v. Corona Clay Co., ruling in favor of the plaintiff based on the verdict of a jury trial in 2022. This legal victory will cause the defendant to clean up its operations and support a local environmentally beneficial project, marking a major win for Temescal Creek and the larger Santa Ana River watershed.

One of the biggest threats to water quality is stormwater runoff from industrial facilities. During rain events, polluted water runs untreated into our storm drains, eventually flowing into our rivers and oceans. The Clean Water Act sets standards for stormwater pollution that industrial facilities must comply with for public safety. When these protections are neglected in Orange County and the Inland Empire, Coastkeeper and Waterkeeper pursue legal action to protect swimmable, drinkable, fishable waters for all.

The federal Central District Court of California (Court) has found Corona Clay Company liable for 12,541 Clean Water Act violations between July 1, 2015, and June 30, 2022. These violations include failure to implement best stormwater management practices, failure to develop or implement a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP), failure to analyze stormwater samples for iron, oil, and grease, and failure to timely upload sampling data to the state’s stormwater database, among other violations.

“Each monitoring violation that the jury found Corona Clay Company liable for, individually and when considered together, caused significant harm to the regulatory program that Congress, the EPA, the State Board, and the Regional Board have developed to restore and maintain the integrity of our nation’s waters. Environmental injury, including injury to legitimate informational needs pertinent to environmental protection, is well recognized to be a form of irreparable harm, and money damages do not compensate for such injuries,” stated Honorable Judge Carter in his January 2 Order on Remedies.

The Court has enacted a $150 penalty per violation, resulting in a total of $1,881,150, a portion of which will be directed towards Temescal Valley Water District and Orange County Conservation Corps for environmental projects that would benefit the Santa Ana River watershed.

“We are delighted with the Judge’s rulings that not only protect water quality but hold the polluter responsible and direct the penalty to benefit local waterways,” said Garry Brown, founder and president of Orange County Coastkeeper and Inland Empire Waterkeeper.

As ordered by the Court, Corona Clay Company must work with a Qualified Industrial Stormwater Practitioner to improve its stormwater management practices. It must revise and implement a SWPPP, analyze all stormwater samples for iron, oil grease, pH, and suspended solids, and upload stormwater sampling data to the statewide database within 30 days of lab results, among other orders. The defendant must also allow Waterkeeper up to two facility inspections per year through October 26, 2026, including at least one wet weather inspection.

Upholding the Clean Water Act and defending Temescal Creek from pollution has been a large investment for Waterkeeper. Since Waterkeeper filed the case in February 2018, there have been 30 motions, 18 hearings and conferences, two trials, a Ninth Circuit appeal, a U.S. Supreme Court brief, and extensive discovery and deposition work. The Court has awarded Waterkeeper $3,464,257.23 in fees and $306,557.19 in costs the defendant must pay.

With this victory, Waterkeeper and Coastkeeper upheld their 100% success rate enforcing the Clean Water Act. For over two decades, these nonprofit groups have brought over 100 industrial facilities into compliance to protect swimmable, drinkable, fishable water in Southern California.